HAMMOND — Through the first four weeks of the season Southeastern Louisiana’s schedule has featured a little bit of everything.
The Lions kicked off defense of their Southland Conference championship with a 34-20 victory at Northwestern State and opened their home schedule with a 28-17 win over Division II Florida Tech.
Before an earlier-than-usual bye week, SLU pushed FBS member Ohio — trailing 21-14 with 11 minutes to play — only to permit two long fourth-quarter touchdowns in a 35-14 loss.
No. 19 SLU (2-1, 1-0) resumes play 6 p.m. Thursday, hosting Lamar (2-1, 1-0) at Strawberry Stadium where an early share of the league lead will be up for grabs.
The game will be televised by the American Sports Network.
“It’s going to be a huge matchup in the Southland Conference to see how this race is going to go,” SLU coach Ron Roberts said Tuesday during his weekly news luncheon. “We’re going to see a highly explosive offense and fundamentally sound defense.”
Roberts commended the composure of his team, which trailed 21-0 at halftime in its last game.
“That’s where I thought we grew up as a football team,” he said.
Without several starters or key contributors on offense — including quarterback D’Shaie Landor, wide receiver Xavier Roberson and running back Julius Maracalin —the Lions rallied to within a touchdown on the arm of redshirt freshman Donovan Isom, who threw TD passes to Jeff Smiley and Dylan Bossier.
Isom completed 21 of 31 passes for 174 yards and added 65 rushing on 19 attempts in his first career start.
Ohio took advantage of some of SLU’s defensive breakdowns to secure the victory, scoring on a 58-yard run 17 seconds after Isom’s TD pass to Bossier and adding a clinching 67-yard TD pass with 6:21 remaining.
“We were disappointed in the way we gave up explosive plays,” said cornerback Denzel Thompson, who, along with Herbert Harris, led the Lions with seven tackles. “We kept up with them, but at the end of the day the explosive plays gave us away.”
Roberts said SLU turned its attention to Lamar for four days last week before the coaching staff hit the road recruiting and gave the team off three days for the weekend.
The respite allowed Landor and Roberson to recover fully and return to the Lions’ starting lineup with right outside linebacker Dereck Robinson expected to start on defense.
Roberts said Maracalin, who leads the team with 140 yards rushing, may not be able to play against Lamar, while the playing status of senior free safety Josh Dakin will be determined at game time.
Lamar’s also entering play after an open date, but built plenty of momentum the week before with an 49-46 road upset of No. 3 Sam Houston State.
The Cardinals were also competitive for a half the week before at Baylor, trailing 35-21 at halftime until the home-standing Bears outscored them 31-10 in the second half.
“We needed an off week right when we (got) it,” Roberts said. “Lamar’s a team that’s going to be a force in this conference. It’s going to be a huge test.”
Roberts said senior linebacker T.J. West, who suffered a torn ACL in the first half of the Northwestern State game, is out for the season. West had 18 tackles in 13 games a year ago. Redshirt freshman Ja’Hmal Macklin of Jonesville-Block has moved into West’s right outside linebacker slot, backing up Robinson. … Cox 4 will televise next week’s SLC game at McNeese State starting at 6 p.m.